Sounds like an oxy-moron, doesn’t it? The Science of Play. But it’s a thing. Really! There have been many researchers with many different theories about Play. From Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, (pronounced Me high/ Cheeks send me high), a Hungarian American psychologist and his outlook on Play and Flow to Dr. Stuart Brown, the founder of The National Institute of Play. He defines play like this: ‘Play is a state of mind rather than an activity. It’s an absorbing, apparently purposeless activity that provides enjoyment and a suspension of self-consciousness and sense of time. It’s also self-motivating and makes you want to do it again.’
If you stop to think about it, Dr. Brown’s explanation is also about flow—we lose track of time when we play. Time has no meaning and you’re having a blast!
Then there’s Gwen Gordon’s theory of Attuned Play that’s related to attachment theory. She posits that Play is not only the path, but the destination as well! When we can attune to each other, be there and be met where we are psychologically by the other person, we’ll enjoy trust and vulnerability. That’s the perfect safe space to Play!
Play can be anything from running outside, getting out the Monopoly board to coloring a complicated picture or reading a good book. At work, it’s sharing a smile with a co-worker and brainstorming a creative idea. There’s really no ‘correct’ way to play. Play is always self-customized. What makes you happy? What brings you joy and makes you forget about time and space?
But all too often, we get into that “I’m an adult! I don’t have time for that!” frame of mind. We have stress in our jobs, families to take care of, financial issues to deal with, and more. Our days go by in a series of events that overwhelm us. All of a sudden, we’re exhausted, totally burnt and lose all sense of happiness or joy in life.
What kind of life is THAT? If play is a state of mind, as Dr. Brown suggests, isn’t it worth it to take a step back and do things that make you happy—even if it’s for just a little while? Taking a break once or twice a week for yourself to play will make you happier! And that will trickle down to others in your life.
And play has been shown to help stimulate nerve growth, help process emotions and more. It helps keep us balanced. Play make us feel good! Remember the last time you played softball with your friends? Or went to an art gallery opening with art you loved? How did that make you feel? When you have to “come back to reality” after engaging in an activity, you were truly playing, and that attitude and mood can stay with you for hours afterwards.
Bottom line is this. Keep playing, no matter what your age and stage. Play means growth. Play means progress. And as Dr. Brown writes in his book Play; “When we stop playing, we start dying.”